JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Carson-Newman College head coach Ken Sparks will go for his 300th career coaching win Saturday against what may be the toughest team the Eagles have faced all season, No. 23-ranked Mars Hill. Kick off is set for 1 p.m. at Mears Stadium in Mars Hill, N.C.
Sparks and the Eagles (5-5, 3-3 South Atlantic Conference) will make program history win or lose. A win will give Sparks his 300th victory, a milestone only 11 other men in NCAA history have reached. A loss will give Carson-Newman a losing record, the only losing record Sparks will have posted in his 32-year career.
“I know which one I prefer,” Sparks said. “I’m really proud of our players and coaches. With all the negative stuff that’s happened and playing with a lot of injuries, it’s really challenging. It’s been as unusual as anything I’ve faced in my years of coaching.”
Sparks sits at 299-79-2 for his career and is one win behind Delaware coaching legend Tubby Raymond for 12th on the all-time list at 300 wins. He is the winningest coach in Division II history and in now the winngingest active coach in college football at a scholarship program.
Mars Hill (7-2, 5-1 SAC) hasn’t beaten the Eagles since a 14-7 win in 2005. In the five years since, Carson-Newman has made them pay for that defeat, reeling off five straight victories and averaged 42 points a game in the process. The closest the Lions have come to beating the Eagles was in 2006, when quarterback Alex Rouse tossed a touchdown pass to then wide receiver and current wide receiver’s coach Otis Miller in the final minute of the game for a 10-7 victory.
Mars Hill is currently the No. 2-ranked team in the Southeast Region and will most likely make the playoffs if they lose to C-N Saturday, but could lose a home game and would definitely lose a first-round bye. The Eagles have a 38-9 advantage in the series and the Lions have only beaten Carson-Newman once in the last 15 years.
This year’s Lions should be formidable with the best running back in the country, senior Jonas Randolph. Randolph leads all of NCAA Division II with 1,738 yards rushing this season to go with his 14 touchdowns. Junior John Richt is an effective passer, averaging over 200 yards a game with 17 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.
Richt’s favorite targets are freshman wide receiver Dimitri Holmes (51 catches, 655 yards, 7 TDS) and junior Josh Young (45 catches, 631 yards, 5 TDs).
The Lions’ defense is filled with prolific tacklers. Junior linebacker Jared Seate has 94 tackles and two sacks, senior defensive lineman Kevin Johnson has 82 tackles and four sacks and junior linebacker Rudy Cabral has 80 tackles and one sack.
C-N brings the No. 4-ranked rushing offense in the country to Mars Hill to try for the upset. Senior Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) is the No. 21-ranked rusher in the country with 1,004 yards and 11 TDs. This is the second consecutive season that Inman has topped 1,000 yards and the third straight season an Eagles player has surpassed the mark.
With a good game, sophomore Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) has been just as dangerous running the ball. Since taking over for injured Brandon Baker in the third game of the season, Douglas has rushed for 731 yards and 12 TDs.
On defense, senior Zeke Andrews will be closing out his finest season with the Eagles. Andrews has 6.5 sacks coming into the game and 15 tackles for a loss this season. Larry Lumpkin leads C-N in total tackles with 83.
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